The Supreme Court of India. (SAJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s Not Supreme Court’s Job To Tell Parties How To Select Candidates, Even If Some Look Like Criminals



You can also read this in Hindi- सर्वोच्च न्यायालय का काम नहीं कि राजनीतिक दलों को बताए कैसे प्रत्याशी चुने जाएँ

That Indian political parties have not been able to decriminalise elections by excluding candidates with criminal records is a fact. However, this is not a good enough reason for the Supreme Court of India to insert itself into the problem with a non-solution. It is not the job of the courts to fix the quality problem in political candidature.

In an order passed yesterday (13 February), a bench headed by Justices Rohinton Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat said that parties should publish the details of the candidates they nominate in newspapers, websites and social media. Apart from explaining the nature of the crimes they have been accused of, parties also have to explain why that particular candidate was chosen over the rest.

This part of the order takes the cake: parties cannot give the candidate’s ability to win an election as the reason for his choice.

Quite apart from the likelihood that this order too will make no difference to the actual choice of candidates by political parties, the more fundamental questions the court needs to ask itself are these:

One, what business does the judiciary have to decide which candidates political parties will field when voters anyway have choice of accepting or rejecting them. For example, nepotism in politics is as worrisome as criminality. But will the Supreme Court now ask the Congress party or the Nationalist Congress Party why it chose Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanaad or Ajit Pawar from Baramati – and not someone unrelated to the family running the party?

Two, even assuming the order has been passed with the best of intentions, is there any chance that political parties will follow its diktat in spirit? Where is the difficulty in giving multiple reasons for choosing a candidate with “criminal antecedents”? Won’t parties simply give frivolous reasons like a candidate’s alleged connect with the masses, his donations for good causes, or participation in some emancipatory agitation as the reason to pick him?

Three, have all the mandatory declarations insisted upon by the Election Commission – from making statements of assets or criminal cases pending against them – had any impact on who voters choose to elect? Is it not likely that these kind of orders for transparency will be ignored exactly in the same way cancer warnings are ignored in cigarette packs, despite graphic and stomach-churning depictions of such afflictions?

Four, will the Supreme Court now give us details of Collegium discussions on why certain judges were chosen for appointment and why others were not? Transparency is a good thing not only in politics, but also in the judiciary.

India is heading for kritarchy – rule by judges – if we expect every problem that afflicts politics or society to be solved by men in black robes. The Supreme Court should desist from inserting itself into problems that political parties and voters have to sort out among themselves.

If the voter, the ultimate sovereign, is not going to reject criminal candidates for reasons best known to him, it is not the job of the Supreme Court to make a decision on his behalf.